Donna Chan is 42, and lives with her husband and two children in North London.
She has had three significant episodes of depression, has recovered back to full health, and is keen to share her experience, insight and knowledge with others.
Image courtesy of http://www.rethinkdepression.com/
The one gift that the illness depression has given me, is that I am my own proof that you can get better. Each episode of depression has given me insight and information on how to develop coping mechanisms to help when the symptoms of depression are battering my mind and my body. My last episode of depression lasted for 3 months, which is half the time of my previous episode which lasted for 6 months. There is no doubt that the support structure that I built up helped me to recover from this vile illness in a shorter period of time.
Recognise it as an illness.
You did not choose to be ill with a depressive illness. The same way you wouldn’t choose to be ill with cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes or a broken bone. If you suspect that you may have depression, if you can identify with the symptoms I’ve listed above, it would be best to consult with your GP in the first instance. Would you consult with your GP if you had a funny rash on your body, or a persistent sore throat? Depression is no different, your GP knows of this illness and can help to treat it.
Medication … It’s a Plaster Cast
There is no shame taking medication in order to assist recovery from this illness. The same way you may need warfarin for a blood clot, insulin for diabetes, beta-blockers for the heart, or a plaster cast for a broken bone. My doctor likened anti-depressants as a ‘plaster cast’ for my brain/mind - which would assist my fractured brain/mind to heal.
This came up a lot when I was ill. I was told to stop giving myself a hard time, and to be kind to myself. This was hard to believe to start with, as the negative thoughts bombarded me - a classic symptom of depression! But I tried and I got better at it. Whatever the ‘depression demon’ tells you - challenge it! Say to yourself ‘I won’t be hard on myself’ or ‘I choose to be kind to myself’ - the more you repeat this the less chance those negative thought have of penetrating your mind.
Keep in Touch
Keep in touch with friends and family in any way that you can. When I was really poorly I couldn’t answer phone calls or respond to text messages. But I found on most days that I was capable of responding to the text messages around late evening. It reduced my isolation by knowing that friends and family cared for me, and that I could respond at some stage on most days. This will change throughout your recovery, until you are back on that phone nattering about ‘this and that’ just like you did before.
I was encouraged to engage with deep breathing exercises, and it was surprisingly easy to do! It helps to slow down both the body and the mind. There are lost of breathing exercises online which can help, but I found this one helped me enormously. I was even able to do it on the days that I was able to venture outside (with my hands by my sides)
- To start, put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest as in the belly breathing exercise.
- Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, and silently count to 4 as you breathe in.
- Hold your breath, and silently count from 1 to 7.
- Breathe out completely as you silently count from 1 to 8.
On my most desperate days when I was confined to my room, I used to repeat mantras to help ward away the barrage of negative and illogical thoughts. It really helps! Our minds can only action one thought at a time - if it is busy repeating positive mantras, it reduces head space for the negative and illogical thoughts. Here are the mantras that I used:
- Thoughts are not facts.
- My body is in charge, my brain is on a break
- I choose to be happy
- Difficult times don’t last, this too shall pass
- I have taken action with my illness, I will be well again
- Each day is a day closer to recovery
- I focus on breathing and grounding myself
- I let go of worries that drain my energy
- I am safe and sound and I will survive this
- I choose to live in the present moment
- My legs take me forward in life
When I was poorly with depression life became debilitating. Things that I once enjoyed doing I just couldn’t do at the time of being ill, no matter how hard I tried. So I showed myself some compassion, and I stopped trying to do the stuff that I couldn’t do. I took advice from loved ones on things that perhaps I could try, in the hope that I could do them:
Writing. The biggest helpful activity was to write. I found that I could still write. I tried to write about the illness, but that was a double edged sword and it was too painful. So I chose to write about happier times instead, which included holidays, friendships, family, my wedding day, the birth of my children. I wrote about all the things I would like to do when I was feeling better again. Writing helped enormously to remind me of who I still was.
Knitting. A friend suggested knitting, as once you learn the stitch, it becomes a repetitive action and easy to concentrate on. As your knitting ‘grows’ you can see a tangible result of your work. This helped enormously with the ‘everlasting time’ of each day, when I was knitting the time went by quicker. I only ever knitted lengths of stuff - I couldn’t have followed a pattern at this time. My daughter has gone on to use my various pieces of knitting as blankets for her dolls - on one knitted piece she adapted it into an eye mask!
Gardening. I began to spend time in my garden, as it felt like a safe extension of my home. I trimmed back bushes, cut back branches on the tree, pulled weeds out of the ground. I didn’t get round to planting anything, but it felt good to be absorbed in an activity that I could still do, and it got me out of the house and into the fresh air.
Home Activities. I couldn’t get to the shops, it was too difficult and too painful. So I gave myself compassion and I let others around me take care of the shopping. But I could still do the washing up, so I took this role on and it allowed me to contribute to the home in a way that I could.
There is a whole host of other ‘gentle’ activities of which people may benefit from. Some ideas include Home baking. Drawing. Painting. Colouring in books. Poetry. Sewing. Paper mache. Putting together a puzzle. Playing a board game.Playing a musical instrument.
The above advice may seem logical on paper, but sadly depression is not a logical illness. Some days you may be able to achieve any number of these assisted recovery suggestions, on other days you may not be able to get out of bed. That’s OK. The trick is to not beat yourself up about it. You are doing your best. If those negative thoughts come to tell you otherwise, try the mantra’s I have suggested, or come up with some of your own, maybe something that you can relate to. And if you can’t come up with your own then revert to mine - they really helped me!
I’d like to end with a saying I read when I was ill, that really resonated with me:
You can’t always be strong, but you can always be brave. You wake up every morning to fight the same illness that left you so tired the night before, and that, my love, is Bravery.
You can read more from Donna on her blog Channy Chat